She jumped into the ladies’ compartment pushing several hefty women aside only to find that the paltry fourteen seats had already been taken. Cursing under her breath, she rushed to secure herself a safe place to stand, away from the wrath of the early morning influx. I should have taken that new AC bus my boss told me about—she glanced at the adjacent coach—or maybe not!
His profile was all that was visible to her at the far end of the coach, yet she felt an inexplicable pull towards him. Oblivious to the frenzy around, he was all eyes for the book in his hands, all the while restlessly adjusting his glasses, which were sliding down his sharp but small nose. One would have thought that his luxuriant curly locks wouldn’t let them inch, let alone slide, but even they didn’t stand a chance against the Mumbai humidity. She strained her neck hoping to get a better look of his face when suddenly, hers was nearly pummeled by an elephantine backpack that emerged out of nowhere. Thank you for the facelift! By the time she could swiftly readjust herself to a vantage position, her eye-candy was AWOL. She kept frantically looking for him but he was nowhere in view. Must have gotten down at the previous station. There’s no way I could trace him now. What if he never takes the train again? She brushed off her histrionical thoughts and vowed to channel her imaginative bursts onto her paintings.
She named him the ‘video-coach’ guy in ode to the coach so named as a tongue-in-cheek allusion to satellite encounters like hers. With its literal window of opportunity for the budding lover or a mere visual vacation for the mentally drained, it was the ideal setup for such shenanigans, in an enclosed space, without showing up on the risqué radar.
It was not until a week later that she caught him reading, again. Only this time, he was standing close enough for her to notice that he had an unusual, inverted pyramidal face with bright, mischievous eyes that reminded her of an overtly inquisitive child. His checkered shirt sat snugly on his broad shoulders and a reasonably trim midriff. The hair was extra springy and looked like it could weather a tsunami unscathed. But she was interested in his eyes, more than anything else. It wasn’t entirely possible to tell if they were dark enough to be called black, but were tantalizing nonetheless. Amidst a boisterous group of men earnestly balancing a game of blackjack on a briefcase and a gang of college boys discussing India’s dismal cricket score with animated indignation or even the lonesome ones whose faces were furrowed with life’s endless questions, he was surprisingly unperturbed with a look of nonchalance so sincere that it was endearing. How does he manage to turn page after page without once looking around? Then abruptly, almost as if in response, he switched his book to an upright position announcing its title—The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka.